A forum on youth and women in agriculture has recognised that the much-needed transformation in Africa’s food systems cannot be attained without the energy and efforts of youth and women.
It deduced that the continent was now faced with a bigger challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic that had distracted food systems; the current system of producing, processing, trading and regulating trade were not sufficient to address the current challenges on the continent.
Thus, it was only prudent to enquire how the status quo could be changed.
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The virtual forum on the theme: “The Role of Women and Youth as Enablers to Transforming Food Systems and Enhancing the Decade of Action Implementation by 2030,” was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on February 10, 2021.
“Sustainable food systems should start with ensuring that there are equitable economic gains, as well as strengthen the contribution of youth and women in the pursuit of our goals to reduce food insecurity and malnutrition levels on the continent,” the forum said.
Enabling the role of youth and women in the food system should be a continental agenda that will also be prioritised by the AU member States.
In recent times, the food systems in Africa have experienced a lot of pressure - population has continued to increase, rising demand for food, continuous degradation of lands, climate change and high levels of malnutrition.
Nonetheless, it has become a challenge to increase the land for production mostly due to the high cost of inputs.
Aspiration Six of the Africa Union (AU) Agenda 2063 places emphasis on development that is people-driven, relying on the intention of Africans, particularly women and youth.
Moreover, the first 10 years implementation plan of Agenda 2063 that comes to an end in 2023 targets to increase youth and women participation in integrated agric value chains by at least 30 per cent.
This means that already, there has been a seven-year head start and if the region is not able to achieve this target by 2023, then it becomes even more challenging for it to meet the target of 2030.
“Therefore, our youth and women also need to be positioned to contribute to increasing agric output, as well as shifting production from a subsistence level to become our great farmers who are well able to secure food security with their families, their communities and nations,” it stated.
The forum deduced that at the same time, measures ought to be put in place to ensure that the food systems operated within acceptable standards of safety and quality.
“Ensuring that the food we eat is safe to consume is, therefore, non-negotiable as that has a considerable impact on human health,” it said.
Africa’s food systems start with production where men, women and youth engage the same soil, and this has considerable impact on the environment - pollution of soils and water, loss of biodiversity, degradation for ecosystems, as well as increased scarcity of water resources.
“The transformation that we are talking about needs the concerted efforts of all stakeholders. Our youth and women can be champions to re-engineer our production processes,” it said.
It emerged that as the continent focused on transforming its food systems, it should not forget about promoting technology and mechanisation that was affordable and easy to use.
Strategies to make our food systems more inclusive should pave the way for innovations that can result in the creation of employment, enterprises and businesses for women and youth.
The forum emphasised that sustainable food systems where women and youth played active roles could only be attained when an enabling environment that ensured inclusiveness in the delivery of key services such as extension, financial and credit, as well as access to inputs existed.
At the same time, the needed linkages for a good market for African produce were also necessary.